“And I realized that being American means pretending to be. Capiche? You pretend to be one thing when you really are something else. “- –Ebal Violante
Halfway through “The Pretend War”, Oraetta and Josto don’t agree where Casablanca was filmed. She believes it was in Istanbul while he is certain it was filmed in Casablanca itself. Neither is correct: Almost everything was shot in a Burbank film studio. If we’re honest, it doesn’t look like it was done on-site either, with most of the action taking place on a single set. But the magic of the movies – and this one perfect, quintessentially American movie in particular – is how easily they can get away with their forgery. Casablanca It looks like it was shot on stage, but we believe the actors were transported halfway around the world because Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains and friends play their roles with such conviction. They talk about being in Casablanca so they have to be, right?
The episode surrounding this post-coital conversation is full of characters trying to figure out what’s real and what’s a hustle and bustle, or make big shows of force without still spreading much of the impending violence. It’s another busy hour where our omniscient point of view gives us a much clearer picture of what’s happening than anyone on the floor, even if some characters like Doctor Senator and Deafy Wickware are smart enough to make good, educated guesses.
The first big set piece of the hour is a memorable one: Constant Calamita, who tried to kill Loy’s son Lemuel last week, drives a shipment of guns down a lonely street one night when he is faced with a wall of fire that soon expands into a ring . Loy’s men hijack the truck – which turns out to be full of rifles – and brand Calamita’s cheek with a heated shotgun barrel. Black men, using both fire and branding to terrorize white men, are a sufficiently powerful role reversal to cover the logistics of how different people can get in and out of the ring safely.
When Josto learns of the unauthorized attempt on Lemuel through Rabbi Milligan, he decides to have a dramatic confrontation with his disloyal brother. He storms into the club above the department store and shoots shots that fly just over Gaetano’s head. The bullets have less impact than the following words, as he notes that the botched hit only cost them 300 cannons, which Cannon would not have felt encouraged to take without such a prior attack.
With all of these rifles, the Cannon crew gets something tangible from their fancy portrayal, but in no case do the targets seem in the least emotional sway. Calamita is permanently shotgun barreled, but more eager than ever to kill his family’s enemies, while Gaetano continues to simmer with resentment about how to take orders from Josto.
Because it is like that FargoWe not only get demonstrations of power in the present, but also stories about the past. While Deafy waits in front of the Joplins for Odis to do an assignment with the Faddas, our favorite Mormon Marshal Calamita and Gaetano tells what happened when a group of Italians tried to move to Utah. The details are a bit fuzzy – it’s implied that the men were gangsters like the faddas, but maybe not – but the punch line is all that matters: that the gentlemen in question were lynched by Deafy and his friends and dragged several miles behind horses until they literally lost their heads. It’s an ugly story told by a man who chews on carrot sticks and takes pride in protecting his little corner of America from someone who is not exactly like him. In many ways, Deafy doesn’t fit this town at all. But in his murderous ethnic defenses he fits in well.
While the men try to find out what is pretending and what is real, the Fargo Women are busy dealing with the complications of stolen loot. After enjoying some erotic suffocation with Josto, Oraetta must deal with the arrival of Ethelrida at her apartment in order to accept her odd neighbor’s offer and earn extra cash for odd jobs. It is unclear what exactly Sister Mayflower’s agenda is with our heroine, whose family she recently tried to poison with this cake, but she is not particularly pleased to have this intruder in her house. And for good reason, as Ethelrida soon comes across a cabinet containing the drugs Oraetta uses to euthanize her patients, news snippets about her death, and the various trophies she stole from people who have come to the end of their self-grace . Ethelrida is smart enough to possibly put the pieces together, but the fact that she’s taking Donatello Fadda’s ring seems unlikely to her. As Chekhov once said, if you give a smart girl a dead Mafia Don ring in the first act …
More problematic in the short term: The money Zelmare Roulette and Swanee Capp took from the Cannon warehouse last week. The money itself should be more than enough to pay off the Smutny family’s debts to Loy. The problem is, no matter how thoroughly Zelmare scrubs the bills, she can’t get the smell of her lover’s vomit out of them. When poor, naive Thurman Smutny brought Loy the stinking bills – no less with Loy – he couldn’t make it clearer that he was paying back the local criminals with the man’s own stolen money. He pretends to have gotten into a small fortune, but Loy knows what’s going on, and that’s very bad.
It’s all like it isn’t. And a real war is a lot less fun than a fake one.
Jack Huston als Detective Odis Weff.
Elizabeth Morris / FX
Some other thoughts:
* Over the past few seasons, a good balance has been maintained between telling serialized stories and creating individual episodes. So far this year a lot has been serialized, partly by accident. As Noah Hawley explained on TV’s Top 5 Podcast, the season was originally planned as 10 episodes, but during production he realized he had too much material and got FX to agree to Frankenstein putting together a bonus episode by rearranging scenes from the middle chapters. It’s a bit of a let down because Fargo Usually (even in the uneven third season) you strive for something a little more ambitious than just “and here are all the crazy things that happen next in our story”.
* The absolutely perfect Glynn Turman line reading this week comes at the end of Doctor Senator’s usual coffee shop summit with Ebal Violante. The indignant condescension drips over his delivery of “Because it seems to me that you haven’t heard all of the critical events in your house these days. ”
* Odis spends much of the episode trying to get Deafy out of town so the crooked detective doesn’t come out as a tool of the Faddas. On the one hand, his OCD tics remain a bit much for this show too; On the other hand, Deafy’s amusement with her (“Is that the minute?”) Earns huge comic dividends for Timothy Olyphant.
* Speaking of the Olyphant, I highly recommend seeing its latest Late night with Seth Meyers Looks blissfully messy even by Olyphant’s usual talk show standards. Fargo kind of pops up, but … check it out. Trust me.
* The Smutny family continues to be haunted, be it a ghost lurking in the hall near Ethelrida or a corpse emerging from the tub while Roulette washes the stolen money there and hangs up to dry.
* Loy would like to outsource most of the rifles seized to Mort Kellerman in Fargo. Kellerman appeared in the second season as a former rival of the Gerhardt Syndicate in a flashback. Not long after the events of this episode, he is stabbed to death by a young Dodd Gerhardt in a movie theater.
* While the series mostly alludes to the works of the Coen brothers, it does not stand above references to other famous parts of popular culture. In this case we get Josto’s trouble when Gaetano pulls a knife on him and growls: “It’s a shootout, asshole!” – Not unlike the time in The untouchables when Sean Connery forwarded a similar complaint to one of Al Capone’s killers. In this case, Connery’s arrogance proves to be out of place. will Josto?
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